Karuizawa, located near Mount Asama in Nagano Prefecture, recently gained a worldwide audience when the latest season of the popular Netflix/Fuji Television series “Terrace House” was filmed in the resort town for about a year. But even before the boys and girls arrived to chase dreams and find romance in a shared house, Karuizawa was already a popular destination as a summer getaway and a ski resort during the winter months.
Karuizawa’s cool climate and even cooler ambience has attracted many famous personalities. Japanese writers such as Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) found inspiration here in the early 20th century. John Lennon had spent several summers here with his family, and a poster-sized picture of him can be seen in the French bakery that he frequented. The present Emperor of Japan, who is set to abdicate at the end of April, played tennis here with his wife in their youth.
While many visitors come for the seasonal beauty and luxury resorts, there is plenty of unique architect to geek out over. One of my favorites is the Stone Church (石の教会), an “organic building” built in 1988 based on “non-church movement” proposed by Kanzou Uchimura.
On my most recent trip to Karuizawa, I stayed at the newly completed Shishi-Iwa House, designed by pritzker prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban. A two-storey retreat nestled in the hills north of Naka Karuizawa, Shishi-Iwa House is a peaceful sanctuary for the digital nomad looking for creative inspiration. Designed to be an intimate retreat for groups or families, Shishi-Iwa offers 10 guest rooms configured within three terrace villas, all of which link to a Grand Room where guests can meet and interact.
Most impressively, Shishi-Iwa houses a thoughtful collection of artwork and designed furniture that are more than conversation pieces. Take for example the floor lamp designed by Shigeru Ban. It is made from his signature cardboard material, but its form takes inspiration from a mid-century Frank Lloyd Wright design. Original artwork includes paintings by established Japanese and international artists, including Günther Förg, Imai Toshimitsu, and Hiroshi Sugimoto. If you think that hotel art is bland or kitschy at best, a stay at Shishi-Iwa House will quickly have you think otherwise.
Oh and do you remember the last time you were handed a physical key to your room upon check-in? In the hospitality industry which is fast moving towards room access with your personal mobile device, Shishi-Iwa throws it way back with a gold key for every guestroom.